News Feature | December 10, 2019

Virginia County Launches Program To Improve Water Quality With Help Of Homeless

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


Despite the best efforts of environmental advocates and municipalities around the country, the nation’s source water bodies still suffer from excessive contamination due to littering. But a pilot program underway in Fairfax, Virginia may offer a solution to that problem by leveraging the help of an underserved population.

“Fairfax County has launched a new pilot program that will help improve water quality in streams and provide dignity in work to people experiencing homelessness,” according to an announcement from the county. “Started October 1, the 12-week program provides part-time, temporary work to guests of [local community shelters] and helps the county meet its mandate to keep streams clean.”

Specifically, the program pays participants $10 an hour to clean litter from local streams and to remove invasive plants. The county’s Stormwater Planning Division is guiding the program while local advocacy groups New Hope Housing and The Lamb Center are vetting participants, providing transportation, supervising work, and tracking and reporting progress. Participants also receive a hot meal after each four-hour shift.

“For many of our guests, this program is a stepping stone to more permanent work; for all, it offers dignity,” said Tara Ruszkowski, The Lamb Center’s board chair, per “It’s an approach that not only uplifts those who need help, but also benefits our community through cleaner, healthier streams.”

The program is a direct effort to help the county maintain its municipal separate storm sewer (MS4) permit, as mandated by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which is meant to reduce the discharge of polluted stormwater into streams.

“Despite county-wide efforts to address litter, we are still finding a lot of litter in streams,” explained Randy Bartlett, director of Fairfax County’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, in the county announcement. “We believe this pilot will be cost-effective, provide additional outreach on the impacts of litter to a community that is typically disengaged, and provide homelessness agencies resources to help serve and reengage this population with meaningful work.”

To read more about how utilities comply with stormwater regulations, visit Water Online’s Stormwater Management Solutions Center.